Saturday, July 24, 2010


One of the diagnostic criterion for a diagnosis of Autism is a narrow, specific area of interest. Called 'special interests' or 'perseverations,' the topics can be highly focused and relatively unusual (types of lightbulbs, logos, amphibians, etc.), or fairly commonplace (dinosaurs, makes and models of cars). I've been lucky enough to have a kid that picks pretty easily accessible special interests. Over the last 5 years, my son has gone through dinosaurs, the Beatles, Pokemon (which I just found out was conceived by a man with Aspergers, of course), Star Wars and most recently, an interest --almost compulsion-- to draw and write a 'graphic novel' about a superhero of my son's own invention.

The superhero's name is Disaster Raptor. The books he's written about him, and his arch enemy, Spikes, have a very mature voice (which his wonderful teacher lovingly scribes for him), and a very complex plotline with A plots, B plots, character arcs and a fully realized self-referential world. It's by far the most astounding thing I've ever read, that these stories come out of my son, the kid who struggles so much with pencil and paper that it's a major feat to write his name on a good day.

The thing is, I never saw the drawing or even the story as Aspergian traits. I still like to tell myself that he's so not got ASD, he's just a hyperactive kid, he's got needs unusual for your average kid with ADHD, so we fit into the spectrum for therapy purposes but he's not diagnostically 'in' there.

Now, I have my own 'special interest.' Autism. Therapy. Interventions. Sensory Integration. Behavior. The evils of over-prescription of medication. Mental Health. I'm obsessed. 90% of the many books I've read in the last year have been autism related. At the moment, sitting out around in this room I write, I count five autism-related books I've started, finished or yet to start.

Last week I got to spend two full days engaging with my interest, attending a conference with the true rockstars of Autism. Temple Grandin, Carol Kranowitz, Tony Attwood, Jed Baker. Rock. Stars.

Tony Attwood is the one who wrote the 'go to' guide on Aspergers. He spoke for five hours last Friday, and while many things are sticking with me, there is one thing that completely blew my mind. He said that fantasy world creation, story writing, like my son's, is one of many types of special interests that kids and adults with ASD can have.

So this thing that I thought took him off the spectrum, seems to be planting him back on it. Not that that really matters, but I think you might know what I mean.

Tony Attwood also said to look into the world of the fantasy to learn about the child. How, in all my thinking about The Kid, did I never think to do this? I think I need to read his story again...